TOPEKA, Kan. – Influenza activity has increased substantially in Kansas, and health officials are encouraging everyone six months of age and older to get vaccinated, if they have not already done so this season.
Based on data from the Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet), influenza activity has increased in nearly every region of the state. Overall, more than 10 percent of patient visits to ILINet clinics during the week ending December 20, 2014 were due to influenza-like illness, and Kansas is reporting “widespread” influenza activity. Since September 1, 2014 through December 20, 2014, 333 influenza- or pneumonia-related deaths have been reported in Kansas during the current influenza season.
Influenza A/H3 has been the predominant type circulating in Kansas so far this season, although influenza B has also been detected. Nationally, influenza A (H3N2) viruses have been reported most frequently, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths tend to occur when influenza A (H3N2) viruses are predominant, particularly among older persons, very young children, and persons with certain chronic medical conditions. Although the CDC has reported that more than two-thirds of circulating influenza A (H3N2) viruses during the current season through December 13, 2014 were antigenically different (antigenic drift) than the influenza A (H3N2) component in this season’s vaccine, cross-protection from the vaccine might reduce the likelihood of severe complications, and vaccination will provide protection against circulating influenza strains that have not undergone antigenic drifting.
The CDC continues to emphasize the importance of the use of oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®) – antiviral medications known as neuraminidase inhibitors – for treatment and, under certain circumstances, prevention of influenza as an adjunct to vaccination.
“Even though some circulating viruses may differ from the vaccine strain during the current season, influenza vaccination is still an important way to reduce the risk of serious complications and death,” said Charlie Hunt, State Epidemiologist. “If you have not had your flu vaccination for this season, I encourage you to get one now.” The influenza vaccination coverage rate was approximately 47 percent in Kansas during the 2013-2014 season, leaving more than half the population unprotected.
In addition to getting vaccinated, avoid spreading the flu virus by covering coughs and sneezes, washing your hands, and staying home when you are sick.
On average, five to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu yearly, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu complications. During the peak of the 2013-2014 influenza season in Kansas, approximately six percent of all health care visits in ILINet clinics were due to influenza-like illness. Influenza or pneumonia contributed to or was the direct cause of 1,135 deaths among Kansas residents during the 2013-2014 influenza season. Influenza and pneumonia was the seventh leading underlying cause of death in 2013 in Kansas.
Nearly all persons six months and older are recommended to receive a flu vaccine every year. Vaccination is especially important for protecting those at high risk for serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant women, adults 65 years and older, and anyone with chronic health conditions like asthma, heart disease, and diabetes. Those caring for, or in regular contact with, an infant less than six months of age should also be immunized. At this age, babies are too young to be vaccinated and are more vulnerable to complications from influenza.
Symptoms of the flu include: fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough and muscle aches. Complications can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections and dehydration; the flu might also worsen other chronic conditions.
It’s not too late to vaccinate. To get your flu vaccine, please contact your health care provider or the local health department. Visit www.kdheks.gov/flu
for more flu facts.